Most providers obtain good media coverage on topics as diverse as student successes, new builds, Honours List surprises and student trips.  This is laudable; but does it demonstrate expertise in all the other things providers excel in?

The problem is that this type of coverage supports the perception that providers only work with young people.  Even the occasional story on a ministerial or Royal visit does little to demonstrate providers’ expertise in everything from arboriculture and catering to environmental sustainability, video production and viticulture.

Ask yourself, when was the last time the BBC phoned and asked for an interview on a non-education topic?  They regard FE as expert in NVQs and the delivery of apprenticeships but they rarely ask FE providers to comment on contemporary stories or to be a panellist on a phone-in on customer service.

Yet providers are one of the richest sources of expertise in town!  If a journalist wants to interview someone on English wines, Motorsport or Blacksmithing there are providers that have some of the finest expertise in the UK.

The question is, do journalists know this?

A recent survey of journalists leads me to the conclusion the answer is no.  Sadly, many journalists still see providers as delivering courses for school leavers and nothing more.

Why demonstrating expertise breadth is important

Before going on to explain how to ensure the media knows about your expertise, a word on why this is important.

If we want employers and others seeing beyond your 16-19 provision you need to inform them that you have a wider expertise and offer.  Clearly you can advertise, but this is expensive and limited by the number of people that read or hear the short advert.  A 3-4 minute interview on radio or TV is much more likely to grab attention and is much more authorative.  Repeat that via contemporary interviews on a range of topics and you have the opportunity to demonstrate a breadth of expertise.

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Informing the media about your breath of expertise

One excellent way of doing this is to write a media release entitled “Ten things you don’t know about Xyz College” and circulate it very widely.  In this type of media release, you don’t need to limit yourself to one side of A4; write several pages if you wish.

Each topic needs a catchy headline and compelling copy that explains your expertise.  Be bold and don’t hold back.  If, like Plumpton College, you run a business called Wine Skills, mentor industry leaders and have graduates running vineyards in NZ, Australia etc., say so very clearly.

If, like Tresham College, you have a centre at The Silverstone Circuit, make sure every journalist that writes about cars and racing knows.

Most providers have expertise in many areas of industry.  In many cases their expertise is market leading.  Yet we still see too many providers being reticent about letting the media know that they are experts … hence the industry employers also lack that knowledge and the providers loses out.

The remedy is easy.  Shout your expertise.

This is just one way in which you can demonstrate expertise. There are several more; explore them and become the journalists first port of call when the next story breaks.

Stefan Drew is a marketing consultant, and was previously director of marketing at two FHE colleges. He now works with providers throughout Europe and the US. Visit: www.EmployerEngagementStrategies.co.uk

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